When people switch to a DAM (Digital Asset Manager) after keeping track of their images by the OS (Operating System) folder there is usually an adjustment period before deciding on a new storage strategy. I am going to summarize my thoughts on the subject, but please remember, there is no one right answer, just some pitfalls to avoid. Also, whole books are written on this subject, so I am only going to touch on the high points.
I find that a lot of people, especially those that photograph a single category, such as birds, use the OS folder system to build a "filing system" to store their images. Using this method you might end up with a folder structure looking something like this:
This is pretty efficient when you want to find all your Auklet shots. You'll probably end up creating some sub-folders to keep track of originals, tiffs etc. The nice thing about this system is that you can find your Auklets no matter what software you are using.
The problem with using this type of system is that not many photographers just take images of bird species. They also take photos of people, events, landscapes and so forth. You then find yourself with the dicey problem where you have photos that fall into several categories such as people and events, or multiple bird species in one photo. A brute force solution is to simply save copies of the image in each folder location such as each bird species. If you do this, then which image is the master? If you make adjustments to one copy, do you also make the same adjustments to the other copy? Can you even remember there is another copy?
It is this type of problem that DAMs try to resolve. A DAM, such as LR, separates the image storage location and the image attributes. The attributes are stored in a database, with one attribute being the file storage location. This has several advantages:
So let's say you have bought into the advantages of using LR as a DAM. You still have to import your images from the camera card to a hard drive on your computer, which means into a folder system. You could just put all your images into one folder, but most people end up picking one category or dimension for a folder structure. Only one dimension is unique and common to all photos: the time the image was taken. Consequently a date structure is the most common folder structure used. I use a hybrid of date and location/event and looks like this:
This is probably a good time to reiterate that there is no right way to do this, so pick whatever works for you, keeping in mind some of the issues I have mentioned.
When you import the images into LR the import module has a destination panel where you can tell LR where to import the images to.
If you pick a date structure then you are in luck in that Adobe have anticipated you might want this, and have built this into their import module in LR.
LR will look at the date and time of each image and create the necessary folders on your hard drive. You can look into the details for yourself if you choose this approach.
Alternatively you can select "Into one folder" and create any folder you want. You could import all your images into an "Import folder" and then drag the thumbnails in LR to any other folder you desire. If you are storing your images by bird name for example, then this would be the process to use.
Once you have your images in LR, no matter how you chose to import them, you now have several options to assign attributes to you can keep track of you images:
If you use keywords be prepared to face the daunting task of keywording all your old images. Keywording requires a systematic, disciplined approach. You can assign as many keywords as you want to each image, and you can assign the same keyword to many images at once. You need to avoid duplicating keywords and you will have to decide if you want to use a keyword hierarchy. Again, there is no one right way to do this. Here is a peek at the top level of the hierarchy in my system:
This allows me to see all the images of Fauna, or to see a sub-grouping, such as Alaska Brown Bears or just the cubs:
There is a lot more to keywording, but we're not writing a book here.
In addition to keywording, you can assign image thumbnails to one or more collections. There are two types of collections: manual and smart. You can also use collection sets to create collection hierarchies, such as the Zenfolio example below.
In a regular collection you simply drag any thumbnail into the collection and then when you click on the collection it will show you all the images in the collection. If you were keeping your images in folders by bird species, then you could build a collection for each bird species. Smart collections hold the result of a database query and are dynamic in nature. For example, you could have a collection of images that have been assigned 5 stars. Every time you assign 5 stars to any thumbnail it will then appear in the 5 star smart collection. This can be a very useful tool. For example, I have decided that I want to geotag all my images - a daunting task. My first problem is keeping track of what is left to tag. Here is the smart collection that holds all the images not yet geotagged:
I have my work cut out to be sure! However, I'm sure you can see some applications for your own purposes.
Finally, you can track your images by where they were taken. If you have a GPS in your camera then this is done automatically. If not, then you can drag the thumbnails to the map module and the location coordinates will be appended to the image data. You can also create locations and add images to the predefined locations instead of finding the location on the map. Predefined locations also help to quickly move the map. In the case below, this is a view of my "Neck Point" location - a favourite park I like to go to.
By clicking on the little tag with a 6 on the map the images taken at that spot are selected in the thumbnails below.
This has been a sketchy overview of some of the DAM options available to you within LR. You can simply save your images in OS folder categories or you can dive into a keywording and/or collection solution. You can be manic and keyword everything, or you can take a selective approach and assign image attributes to portions of your entire image collection. The main take away is to think it through carefully. Making the right decisions now will save you a lot of pain down the road.